Bryce Edwards: Minister’s offering mild and centrist

Comment: There is nothing particularly exciting or offensive about Bill English's eighth Budget. 

Bryce Edwards
Bryce Edwards
Therefore it has been panned as boring and ineffective.

Dissatisfaction has been expressed because the Budget fails to achieve anything new.

Even the big new social expenditure is really only about catching up with growing need in various sectors that's being brought about by population growth and years of funding cuts during the recession.

Yet although the Budget is fairly conservative, it's not particularly right-wing - there's no tax cuts or welfare reform.

In fact, National is spending significant amounts of new money in traditionally left-wing areas such as health, education and infrastructure.

Michael Cullen might well have written this Budget.

So why is the Budget so divisive?

Of course, some of the criticism can simply be put down to partisanship.

But there's a bigger problem for National - the public's expectations are rising.

This is because we now feel we have finally moved out of the shadow of the Global Financial Crisis.

In fact, this Budget heralds that more than any previous ones - the Government tells us the economy is booming, and that huge multibillion-dollar surpluses are on the way.

Hence our expectations have risen, and we are no longer prepared to tighten our belts.

There's an optimistic mood for change.

At the same time, we are aware of huge societal problems and public services that suffered from under-funding during the recession of the past decade.

People want to see funding boosts in many areas.

And they want social ills like homelessness resolved.

There's not much in the Budget that deals with such issues.

But, despite much of the strenuous critiques of the Budget from opposition politicians, it is not really clear that if a Labour-led government was in power now it would be delivering anything too different from what Bill English came up with yesterday.

Perhaps there wouldn't be the large increases of expenditure on the spy agencies and defence, and perhaps there would be more mention of inequality and poverty.

But a Labour-led government would probably be fairly happy delivering Bill English's rather bland 2016 Budget.

But the next one might be different.

John Key and his finance minister have clearly made room for possible tax cuts and bigger surprises in future budgets.

These are likely to be more polarising than this year's mild and centrist offerings.

- Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in the University of Otago's Department of Politics

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